Don is a science-fiction writer from New York diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a very early stage. Living with his parents and two sisters, Don received all the love and support he needed. Yet, year after year, Don was feeling something was missing. He got an idea to travel to different places in order to find the piece that would make him feel complete. Los Angeles seemed nice, but Don wasn’t feeling it there, Dublin looked a bit too rainy, Paris was full of romance, but wheelchair accessibility there was low. Then, in December 2008, after graduating from CUNY Graduate School and University Center, Don packed his wheelchair and visited Tokyo. One of the biggest tourists destinations surprised Don positively once he got a chance to see first-hand what it is like to live as a disabled person in a country like Japan. Today, Don shares his experience and compares features Tokyo provides for wheelchair users, comparing the situation to his hometown – New York.
Hello there! I am Don, a 36-year old writer diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months of age. At the age of three, an electric wheelchair became my best friend, and it still is. Yet, the two of us had a couple of ups and downs in terms of being outside of the state, exploring things, as not so many areas in New York are wheelchair-accessible. And then, in 2008, I visited Tokyo, which was a massive trigger for a 25-year old me. From the first moment I laid my wheels on the soil of the most beautiful city in the world , I knew that was it – my future home.
Exotic landscapes and diverting culture got me a bit later. Actually, there was something else that trapped my heart. The very moment when 6 subway employees carried me and my electric wheelchair down the stairs of the subway was (I am not being dramatic) the clear sign from above Japan is the land of any disabled person’s fantasies. And, it clearly wasn’t only me there – many disabled people believe Tokyo is a heaven on earth, for many reasons.
Comparing Tokyo (and Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka as well) to my hometown was rather easy. Modified tourists sites, accessible and clean toilets all over the city, and easy-to-use transportation system make just a tiny part of what Japan has to offer to a person in a wheelchair, which the United States of America can’t boast about actually.
Despite the fact ADA was signed in Washington, D.C., people in wheelchairs face a myriad of challenges when traveling from one destination to another in the city. There are no curb ramps, crosswalks (and the ones that seem available are hard to reach), sidewalks are impassable for wheelchairs and scooters during wintertime. And then, you have Tokyo – a big jungle of train lines and labyrinths, which only seem frightening.
Believe me when I say, using public transportation here is a piece of cake. You won’t even have to use those labyrinths! The staff member will guide you to the right track after you purchase a ticket, and even help you get on the train with a portable slope. Oh, there will also be someone to help you get off it once you reach your destination as well.
Almost anywhere you are based in Japan, especially when it comes to Tokyo and a few cities I mentioned above, you won’t have to travel large distances to see some of its greatest attractions. Most of them are clustered together, just one or two stations away. What I really appreciated is there are no entrance fees for wheelchair users visiting some of Japan’s attractions.
Next, if you are traveling on your own, you can still be carefree regarding stairs and barriers. Just pick up a map or a brochure of the place you are visiting, and it will show routes accessible for wheelchair users as well as restroom locations.
Barrier-free hotel rooms
I am not saying you can’t find an accessible hotel in the United States, but I can say you won’t find such a wide range of hotels with affordable prices and essential features you may require as a person in a wheelchair. Bathrooms are accessible as well – handrails, roll-in-showers, waterproofed bathrooms, there is almost no chance you will have difficulties finding the right accommodation.
There is no doubt – you can shop anywhere in the world. I never thought I was crazy for shopping, at least not until I moved to Tokyo. New York is indeed one of the places where you can find almost anything you imagine if you are able-bodied. Yet, if you are a wheelchair user, things may get a bit rocky. Most dressing rooms are no wheelchair accessible and it is impossible to get around the floors in shopping malls. Well, Akihabara (“Electric Town”), Harajuku, Roppongi, Shibuya, and Kawasaki will grab your attention for sure if you are a shopping maniac.
Yet, this is not the end. Japan is preparing for the upcoming 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. In other words – visiting Japan or even living here is going to be even easier for wheelchair users. Why wouldn’t you plan your next trip to Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka? Here, it doesn’t matter at all if you are in a wheelchair – everything is set up perfect for anybody to have a great time here.